Bee Pastures May Help Pollinators Prosper

Research by ARS scientists shows floral havens may be a practical and economical way of producing successive generations of healthy bees.


| August 13, 2010



A blue orchard bee hunts for pollen on a California five-spot flower (Nemophila maculata).

A blue orchard bee hunts for pollen on a California five-spot flower (Nemophila maculata).

courtesy Jim Cane/ARS

Beautiful wildflowers might someday be planted in "bee pastures," floral havens created as an efficient, practical, environmentally friendly, and economically sound way to produce successive generations of healthy young bees.

The pesticide-free pastures could be simple to establish, and – at perhaps only a half-acre each – easy to tend, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) entomologist James H. Cane. He's based at the Pollinating Insects Biology, Management and Systematics Research Unit operated by USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Logan, Utah. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

Bee pasturing isn't a new idea. But studies by Cane and his collaborators, conducted in a research greenhouse and at outdoor sites in Utah and California, are likely the most extensive to date.

Two bee businesses are already using the findings to propagate more bees.

The research indicates that species of pastured pollinators could include, for example, the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria. This gentle bee helps with pollination tasks handled primarily by the nation's premier pollinator, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Cane estimates that, under good conditions, blue orchard bee populations could increase by as much as fourfold to fivefold a year in a well-designed, well-managed bee pasture.

Cane and colleagues have studied wildflowers that might be ideal for planting at bee pastures in California. In particular, the team was interested in early-flowering annuals that could help bolster populations of blue orchard bees needed to pollinate California's vast almond orchards.





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